On Saturday, during the closing Mass for the tenth World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis preached a homily focused on the true freedom of self-sacrifice and the mission of families in the world today, a mission he recognized as courageous. This courage derives from married couples’ and families intentional decision to use human freedom to encounter and love one another:
All of you married couples, in building your family, made, with the help of Christ’s grace, a courageous decision: not to use freedom for yourselves, but to love the persons that God has put at your side. Instead of living like little islands, you became “slaves of one another”. That is how freedom is exercised in the family. There are no “planets” or “satellites”, each travelling on its own orbit. The family is the place of encounter, of sharing, of going forth from ourselves in order to welcome others and stand beside them. The family is the first place where we learn to love. We must never forget that the family is the first place where we learn to love.
He also highlighted threats to the family and its mission, naming explicitly the cultural forces which undermine the Christian family’s “spirit of acceptance and service”:
Brothers and sisters, even as we reaffirm this with profound conviction, we also know full well that it is not always the case, for any number of reasons and a variety of situations. And so, in praising the beauty of the family, we also feel compelled, today more than ever, to defend the family. Let us not allow the family to be poisoned by the toxins of selfishness, individualism, today’s culture of indifference and culture of waste, and as a result lose its very DNA, which is the spirit of acceptance and service. The mark of the family is acceptance and the spirit of service within the family.
Many Catholic parents rightly seek to protect their children from the dangers and temptations of the world. But in highlighting these challenges to the family today, Pope Francis called his listeners to avoid a merely defensive posture, or to fall into fear of bringing children into the world at all.:
Parents fear that children will not be able to find their way amid the complexity and confusion of our societies, where everything seems chaotic and precarious, and in the end lose their way. This fear makes some parents anxious and others overprotective. At times, it even ends up thwarting the desire to bring new lives into the world.
What is important for the Holy Father is how parents and families respond to the cultural threats they perceive. The path to fighting the “culture of indifference and culture of waste” is not to retreat in defensiveness, but to courageously face their own tendencies to anxiety and overprotectiveness.
This call is relevant especially as children grow, and involves trusting them in the same way that God has expressed trust in young people throughout history. Our confidence in them can allow young people to discover God’s will for their lives and to themselves be sent forth by God, who will equip them with what they need to face the challenges of the culture and of their own lives. This confidence can be bolstered by reflecting on God’s own way of acting as Father:
How important it is for parents to reflect on God’s way of acting! God loves young people, but that does not mean that he preserves them from all risk, from every challenge and from all suffering. God is not anxious and overprotective. Think about it: God is not anxious and overprotective; on the contrary, he trusts young people and he calls each of them to scale the heights of life and of mission. We think of the child Samuel, the adolescent David or the young Jeremiah; above all, we think of that young sixteen or seventeen year old girl who conceived Jesus, the Virgin Mary. He trusts a young girl. Dear parents, the word of God shows us the way: not to shield our children from the slightest hardship and suffering, but to try to communicate to them a passion for life, to arouse in them the desire to discover their vocation and embrace the great mission that God has in mind for them. It was precisely that discovery which made Elisha courageous and determined; it made him become an adult. The decision to leave his parents behind and to sacrifice the oxen is a sign that Elisha realized that it was now “up to him”, that it was time to accept God’s call and to carry on the work of his master. This he would do courageously until the very end of his life. Dear parents, if you help your children to discover and to accept their vocation, you will see that they too will be “gripped” by this mission; and they will find the strength they need to confront and overcome the difficulties of life.
How are parents to do this? By embracing their own vocations “with faithful love,” understanding that they are on their own journeys with God into unknown, unpredictable places. By responding to the call of Jesus in marriage, married couples have moved out of safety and security as families on mission, and will inevitably encounter opposition and challenges for which God will equip them.:
To follow Jesus means to set out on a never-ending “trip” with him through the events of life. How true this is for you married couples! By accepting the call to marriage and family, you too have left the “nest” and set out on a trip, without knowing beforehand where exactly it would lead, and what new situations, unexpected events and surprises, some painful, would eventually lie in store for you. That is what it means to journey with the Lord. It is a lively, unpredictable and marvellous voyage of discovery. Let us remember that every disciple of Jesus finds his or her repose in doing God’s will each day, wherever it may lead.
Francis concluded with encouragement:
Strengthened by those words of life, I encourage you to take up with renewed conviction the journey of family love, sharing with all the members of your families the joy of this calling. It is not an easy journey: there will be dark moments, moments of difficulty in which we will think that it is all over. May the love you share with one another be always open, directed outwards, capable of “touching” the weak and wounded, the frail in body and the frail in spirit, and all whom you meet along the way. For love, including family love, is purified and strengthened whenever it is shared with others.
The Church is with you; indeed, the Church is in you! For the Church was born of a family, the Holy Family of Nazareth, and is made up mostly of families. May the Lord help you each day to persevere in unity, peace, joy, and in moments of difficulty, that faithful perseverance, which makes us live better and shows everyone that God is love and communion of life.
Francis also reflected on how families and all Christians ought to respond to opposition and challenges to their mission during his Sunday Angelus address at the close of the World Meeting of Families. This way of response ought to be modeled on Jesus’ own way of acting when facing opposition, and is readily applicable to the often oppositional disagreements Christians face both in the family and in the public square. He said:
It is easy, it is instinctive, to allow ourselves to be overcome by anger when faced with opposition. What is difficult, instead, is to master oneself, doing as Jesus did who, as the Gospel says, “went on to another village” (v. 56). This means that when we meet with opposition, we must turn toward doing good elsewhere, without recrimination. This way, Jesus helps us to be people who are serene, who are happy with the good accomplished, and who do not seek human approval.
Now, we can ask ourselves: what point are we at? What point are we at? In the face of opposition, misunderstanding, do we turn to the Lord? Do we ask him for his steadfastness in doing good? Or do we rather seek confirmation through applause, ending up being bitter and resentful when we do not hear it? Many times, consciously or unconsciously, we seek applause, approval from others, and we do things for applause. No, that does not work. We must do good out of service, not seeking applause. Sometimes we think that our fervour is due to a sense of justice for a good cause. But in reality, most of the time it is nothing other than pride, united with weakness, sensitivity, and impatience. So, let us ask Jesus for the strength of being like him, of following him resolutely down the path of service, not to be vindictive, not to be intolerant when difficulties present themselves, when we spend ourselves in doing good and others do not understand this, or even when they disqualify us. No, silence and go ahead.
On Monday, Pope Francis also celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of his episcopal ordination. Let us pray for him, that he is strengthened and encouraged in the exercise of the ministry entrusted to him.
Image Credit: Pope Francis at X World Meeting of Families. Website of WMOF22.
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Rachel Amiri serves as Production Editor for Where Peter Is and has also appeared as the host of WPI Live. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with degrees in Theology and Political Science, and was deeply shaped by the thought of Pope Benedict XVI. She has worked in Catholic publishing as well as in healthcare as a FertilityCare Practitioner. Rachel is married to fellow WPI Contributor Daniel Amiri and resides in St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising three children.